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Wari Culture

Pre-Incan Culture Didn’t Rule by Pillage, Plunder and Conquest

The Wari (Spanish: Huari) civilization flourished from about 600-1000 AD in the Andean highlands and forged a complex society widely regarded today as ancient Peru’s first empire.  Their Andean capital, Huari, became one of the world's great cities. Relatively little is known about the Wari because no written record remains, although thousands of  archaeological sites  reveal much about their lives.  Until now it was believed the Wari established a strong centralised control – economic, political, cultural and military – like their Inca successors to govern the majority of the populations living across the central Andes. However, research published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology in October last year draws this theory into question and suggests that the Wari, an ancestor culture to the Incas, were able to flourish and expand their territory through trade and semi-autonomous colonies rather than through conquest. 

The researchers examined the settlement patterns of the pre-Columbian culture using archaeological surveys and geographic mapping and found that rather than radiating out in a continuous circle from Pikillacta, a huge city with massive investment, the Wari area of rule was patchier. They started out by creating loosely administered colonies to expand trade, provide land for settlers and tap natural resources across the central Andes.

An aerial photograph of Pikillacta, the ancient Wari city in the Cusco Valley. Credit: Department of Library Services, American Museum of Natural History

"A 'colonization first' interpretation of early Wari expansion encourages the reconsideration of motivations for expansion, shifting from military conquest and economic exploitation of subject populations to issues such as demographic relief and strategic expansion of trade routes or natural resource access," said study lead author R. Alan Covey, an anthropologist at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.

The findings suggest the Wari, unlike their descendants the Incas, were not quite able to bring colonies directly under their rule. Even at the height of their power, it appears they had a more indirect influence where they expanded when trade routes opened or when they needed access to specific resources.

The Wari state established architecturally distinctive administration centres in many of its provinces. The emphasis on homogenous administrative architecture and evidence for significant social stratification suggests a complex socio-political hierarchy. The Wari developed terraced field technology and invested in a major road network. This was a significant legacy which the Inca used when they began to expand their empire several centuries later. 

Featured image:  Pikillaqta administrative center, built by the Wari civilization in Cusco. Photo source: Wikipedia

By April Holloway

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